World

Report: American Red Cross Collected Half Billion For Haiti, Built 6 Permanent Homes

| by Michael Allen

After Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010, over 200,000 people were killed and scores more were left homeless and injured.

The earthquake struck near Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince.

The American Red Cross reportedly raised nearly half a billion dollars and promised to help Haiti rebuild, but NPR and Pro-Public recently co-published a disturbing investigation about that 5-year effort.

ProPublica and NPR reported there were "poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success, according to a review of hundreds of pages of the charity's internal documents and emails, as well as interviews with a dozen current and former officials."

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ProPublica and NPR noted that the American Red Cross did provide emergency help after the earthquake such as food, blankets and shelter.

The charity claimed that it "provided homes" for about 130,000 people, however, only six permanent homes have reportedly been built.

ProPublica and NPR report that of the 130,000 number "much of that is made up of people who went to a training seminar on how to fix their homes, received temporary rental help or lived in shelters like these in Bon Repos, which start to disintegrate after three to five years. Residents say they don't have bathrooms, kitchens or running water."

The American Red Cross told ProPublica and NPR that its "130,000" number includes home-fixing seminars, temporary rental assistance and temporary shelters (which only last three-five years).

David Meltzer, who works as the head of the international division for the American Red Cross, claims that $69 million went to emergency relief, $170 million for shelter and another $49 million for water and sanitation.

The American Red Cross has also claimed it spent millions on hospitals, vaccinations, tents and water tablets, temporary shelters for thousands, $44 million on food and more than 100 projects in the troubled island country.

However, the American Red Cross has not provided a specific list of those programs, or details of the programs' costs.

According to NPR and ProPublica, the American Red Cross did give alot of the donated money to other groups to do the actual work, however, the American Red Cross took its administrative fees from the donations and so did those other organizations.

The American Red Cross reportedly took another cut of the donations for "program costs incurred in managing" projects that it hired other charities to do.

NPR and ProPublica claim those fees actually amounted to a third of the money earmarked to help the people of Haiti.

The American Red Cross told NPR and ProPublica in an email that its reporters were "creating ill will in the community, which may give rise to a security incident" and added, "We will hold you and your news organizations fully responsible."

However, NPR and ProPublica say that no security incident has happened.

NPR and ProPublica do claim that internal emails at the American Red Cross show numerous problems with the building projects, getting land rights, staff turnovers and other delays.

Lee Malany, who was in charge of the American Red Cross' shelter program, claimed that senior managers at the charity had no real plan on how to spend millions of dollars on housing.

Malany claimed that American Red Cross executives were mainly concerned on picking projects that would help the charity's publicity.

The American Red Cross does not agree with Manley's claims, including the public relations concerns.

However, according to ProPublica and NPR, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern, wrote an email in 2013 that stated, "We still are holding $20 million of contingency. Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?) Can we fund Conrad's hospital? Or more to [Partners in Health]? Any more shelter projects?"

In 2011, McGovern reportedly told a meeting at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. that the Haiti money would "provide tens of thousands of people with permanent homes ... where we develop brand-new communities ... including water and sanitation."

There are requirements by Haiti's government that actually make it hard to build homes in the poverty-stricken country, but other charities have reportedly built thousands of homes.

The key to those charities' success has been hiring local Haitian residents, while the American Red Cross depended too much on foreign workers who did not speak languages used in Haiti (French or Creole), current and ex-employees told ProPublica and NPR.

Judith St. Fort, who was directing the Haiti program for the American Red Cross, said in an internal email that some senior managers were saying "very disturbing" statements about Haitian workers, noted ProPublica and NPR.

Meltzer countered by telling ProPublica and NPR that he feels very good about the progress the American Red Cross has made in Haiti.

The American Red Cross is planning to leave Haiti and turn its projects over to the Haitian Red Cross in 2016.

Sources: NPR, ProPublica
Image Credit: Marco Dormino/ The United Nations United Nations Development Programme